In 1983, Theologian John Hull lost his sight just days before the birth of his first son. Having his entire world transformed by this development, Hull decided the only way he could process this adjustment and come to terms with what it means to him as a father, husband, son and teacher, was to document his observations on blindness and the experience of blindness on cassette tapes. Hull would spend years recording these insights, and eventually developed them into the basis of a book on the subject. British directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney were given access to these tapes by John and his wife Marilyn and produced an incredible short film; however, now the two men have expanded upon their original vision to create a complete feature, and the result is nothing short of transcendent.

The method of presenting Hull’s story is achieved in a deceptively simple and complex all at once: Middleton and Spinney film actors who lip-sync over the words of Hull and his family, order to create a genuine sense of immediacy while keep the truth and honesty of the original expressions themselves. This decision is crucial as the entire film is lifted beautifully by the compelling power of Hull as a narrator. John’s voice pulls you in like a gentle tide, casting you into a world of such exquisite thought and remarkable humanism that you can’t help but be left stunned by the brilliance and strength of his character, a voice that you can feel move through every emotion, dancing between joy and despair, the intangible of life vocalised so effortless that you can almost grasp it.

Sadly, John Hull passed away before he could ever see the film, but his ineffable spirit truly transcends the boundaries of the film itself, thanks to the simplicity of focus and dedication of vision Middleton and Spinney hold through the film. You can feel the directors’ genuine connection and care for John, something that truly shines through every frame, and they share with you; it’s as if this film invites you completely into not just Hull’s world, but the very soul of the man himself, which elicits a tremendous emotional connection for the audience. Furthermore, the directors’ commitment to expressing Hull’s vision extends to the aesthetics of the film itself, in particular the injection of abstract surrealism to convey John’s inner visions. The film is balanced between the real texture of the world around John, and his internalised interpretation, altered at times into almost magic realism by the scope of his imagination. Middleton and Spinney themselves described Hull’s interpretations and exploration of his internal thoughts as cinematic, and rather than shy away from this, embrace it to create a harmony of aesthetic and sound: When John discusses a dream in which a terrible wave consumes him and his family as they shop in a supermarket, the pair actually create this image in all its remarkable spectacle, even echoing the tide of blood in The Shining. It is almost in physically recreating these fantasies, the filmmakers find a power in revealing the depth of vision, crystallising the relationship between the real and the imagined.

The film’s most iconic scene sees the translation of Hull’s abstract thoughts into pure visual expression reach its utter apex, and create arguably one of the defining cinematic moments of the year. Hull discusses how rain becomes something on an expression of the world in the mind’s eye of the blind, mapping the contours of space in a cacophony of sound. He then liltingly dreams for something like a raining inside, in order to feel the textures of the domestic space and create its unique song. Middleton and Spinney literalise this as the home is filled with a downpour of rain, using intimate close ups of household objects bouncing with the spray of droplets, creating their own melodies as the water cascades in both real time and gentle slow-motion, serving to also highlight the masterful sound design which is truly magnificent in its balance between gentleness and power, adding a crucial layer of depth to the relationship between the exterior and interior world of John Hull. This scene encapsulates the power of the film in total: elegant and emotionally tender, the subtly and unreal nature of the moment coming together to reflect the waves of sadness and warmth as they coalesce into something real. A truth that echoes in our hearts about the wonder of our existence, and the simple beauty of the everyday, formed into a poem of redemptive power and celebration of humanity.

Notes on Blindness is truly a beautiful meditation on not simply what it means to be blind, but more evocatively, what vision truly is. Capturing both the sense of loss and the sense of discovery in finding a new way to understand the world within, through the heart and mind, in the process finding the courage to embrace life anew, expressed with a poetic delicacy through the direction of Pete Middleton and James Spinney.  However, most of all, the film is a celebration of a man who faced this journey and did so with a majestic sense of honesty, strength and belief,  and I implore you to experience his wonder and be swept away with this quietly masterful little gem.

Movie Review: Notes On Blindness
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: